Jul 29 2009

There’s Plenty

Comments after the video:

I’ve been meaning to write about this, and someone beat me to it with a video.  One thing I’d add:  Some may object to the bit about how each family could have a house and yard in a space the size of Texas, because you can’t feed yourself on a normal-sized yard, and not all of Texas is good for growing food.

So let’s look at it this way.  According to 1997 numbers from the USDA, the US has 455 million acres of cropland and 580 million acres of pasture and livestock range.  I don’t know whether that includes the 37 million acres of land the government pays farmers to leave idle, so I’ll just assume it does.  That’s a total of 1,035,000,000 acres that is suitable for growing food.  With just over 300 million people in the USA, that’s 3.4 acres per man, woman, and child, or 13.8 acres for a family of four.  (That doesn’t count the nearly billion more acres of forest and parks, some of which could be farmed if we really had to.)  If you’re not familiar with acres, it might be easier to visualize 13.8 acres as about 6 city blocks.

How much food can that family grow in that space?  Well, an acre will support one dairy cow or beef steer, about 6 goats or sheep, 2-3 hogs (assuming no grain from outside), or 100+ chickens.  You can also run chickens or ducks with or after the larger animals on the same acre.  So let’s say you get a dairy cow, two beef calves, one bred gilt (a girl pig), 100 meat chickens, and 50 laying hens.  The cow should produce 5 gallons/day for most of the year, so unless you learn to make cheese, you’ll have more milk than you know what to do with.  The beef steers will gain at least 500 pounds each in a year, and 60% of that will be meat.  (More if you keep things like the tallow and organs.)  The gilt will have two litters, and you should be able to raise 8 pigs from each litter, and each pig will dress out to about 150 pounds of meat.  Each meat chicken should weigh 3-4 pounds when dressed.

So on about half your acreage, you’d be raising 600 pounds of beef, 2400 pounds of pork, and 300-400 pounds of chicken.  (You begin to see why every small farmer used to have a couple hogs.)   That’s nine pounds of meat per day, divided by four people!  That’s even more meat than I eat, and there’s also all that milk and 10-40 eggs/day depending on the time of year.

And you’ve still got the other half of your acreage for a huge garden.  Let’s say you planted each of your other acres to a single vegetable.  Here’s what a few common ones will yield per acre:

  • asparagus – 2700 pounds
  • broccoli – 5040 pounds
  • carrots – 27,000 pounds
  • Swiss chard – 10,000 pounds
  • tomatoes – 8400 pounds
  • cauliflower – 15,540 pounds

So on half your 13.8 acre plot, you could grow enough vegetables for each family member to eat 46 pounds of vegetables a day!

I could go on about how much fruit you could get out of a couple of those acres, but I think you’re probably getting the point by now: there’s plenty of farmable land, and no reason to think we’re anywhere near a food shortage.  Even if I’m off by a factor of four on my numbers (and I tried to be conservative), that family would still be producing well over 10 pounds of food per person per day.

No one would starve if the US government (and others) stopped subsidizing farmers.  No one would starve if we stopped pushing chemical fertilizers and herbicides and crowding animals onto huge feedlots where they need daily antibiotics to stay halfway healthy.  None of that is necessary.

I suspect that the overpopulation and food shortage worries come from people who live in the city and are constantly in crowds of people or vehicles with concrete as far as the eye can see, so it’s hard for them to imagine just how much open space there is out here.  There’s plenty.

(Hat tip: Fallible Blogma.)

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